Bánh khúc (cudweed) cake, a must-try dish in Hà Nội. Photo tintucvietnam.vn
By Hoàng Hồ
Social distancing measures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic have left many people trying to remember what it was like when life was normal.
For me, and perhaps everyone else, one of the things I have missed the most is food.
Only recently I was at the junction of Nguyễn Thái Học and Lê Duẩn when I recognised a little shop that just two months ago was full of customers, including myself.
Inside the shop, you can see a picture of national coach Park Hang Seo and his team hanging on the wall.
In the photo, a woman is serving food to players, including stars Hà Đức Chinh and Quang Hải.
That woman is Nguyễn Thị Lan, one of the most, if not the most famous, cudweed cake chefs in Hà Nội.
Mrs Lan serves her tasty bánh khúc for customers. Photo baomoi.com
And the Việt Nam football team are not her only famous customers.
“The most memorable for me was the Trump-Kim summit early last year in Hà Nội, when my cudweed cakes were served to reporters who attended the summit.”
“The Prime Minister himself chose my dish, first, because the food was fresh and clean, and second, because it is quick and convenient for the reporters to work and eat at the same time,” Lan proudly said.
For Lan, success didn’t come easy.
“My mother made cudweed cakes, so I learned from her. The first few times, the cakes weren’t that great. Honestly, I stayed awake at night thinking about how to make the cakes better.”
“If I did something wrong in the process, I’d think about the reason why, and learned from my mistake.”
“After many years, I finally have the result like today: delicious cudweed cakes to serve my customers.”
I used to question why cudweed cakes were held in such high regard because they're nothing but a sticky rice ball with pork belly and green beans inside.
It was not until last year that I had my first cudweed cake.
Nguyễn Hồng Hải’s family has been making cudweed cake since the French colonial period in Việt Nam.
For him, this is not only a job but a responsibility and a legacy from his grandparents.
“My family has been selling cudweed cakes since French colonial times. Now my mother is old, so she has taught me and my siblings how to make them.”
“This is a family recipe. Our generation is trying to maintain, source ingredients and increase the quality of cudweed cakes to serve our customers.”
Customers enjoy cudweed cakes at Nguyễn Thị Lan's shop. VNS Photo Hoàng Hồ
Cudweed and glutinous powder are used to make the crust. The filling includes green beans, glutinous rice and pork belly.
Each plays its own important role, but cudweed takes the leading role.
“It creates a flavour that gives the unique taste to the cake.”
“Every ingredient has to be the best in the market. The pork belly is fresh from pigs reared on bran that gives it a rich fragrance.”
“Some might say it’s a simple dish, but they are wrong. Every day, I have to wake up really early to prepare the rice and make the crust out of cudweed leaves,” Hải affirmed.
“Everything has to be perfect, from kneading the rice and cudweed, to blending the ingredients together.”
Cudweed grows wild in Việt Nam's rural areas. Photo DoDinhTuan's blog
Cudweed season only lasts for two months, which might be why many people treasure the dish.
“When the weather is cold, the taste of a hot bánh khúc dipped in sesame salt, eaten with pork and sprinkled with spicy pepper is wonderful.”
So, popular with world leaders and footballers alike, cudweed cake is the perfect treat to warm your cockles. So, grab a ball and savour the taste explosion! VNS